Jim Rigby on the Anger of the Oppressed


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This is an example of a Facebook post by Rev. Jim Rigby. It illustrates why Dennis Benson finds Rigby's Facebook presence encouraging.

Jim Rigby
October 14, 2017

There seems to be a consensus among many white people that, while we have made some past mistakes on racial issues, ANY anger expressed by people of color that makes us uncomfortable is equivalent to white supremacy and, in fact, makes us the REAL victims.

Anger expressed by Black Lives Matter is often reported as equivalent to the centuries long racism they are trying to unmask and dismantle.

When Black athletes kneel in an effort to express their conviction that people of color are still not equal (or even safe) in America today, their anger is dishonestly reinterpreted as an attack on the flag, the military and upon America itself.

When immigrant rights activists try to tell the history of colonization and exploitation that has displaced millions of people in Central America and around the world, they are heard as “hating America.” By repeating "we are a nation of laws" we avoid the whole issue of whether those laws are just.

I would ask any white reader to consider the POSSIBILITY that you and I have been propagandized by white supremacist ideas without our even knowing it. I define "white supremacy" not as hating people of other races, but as seeing the white race as normative.

Ian Haney López wrote a book on "dog whistle” politics that can help us white people prepare to listen to the anger of our brothers and sisters of other races.

López's book attempts to unmask the coded language that allows politicians to speak to racial anxieties among white voters without ever having to say so in plain language. Jenée Desmond-Harris, senior staff writer at The Root summarizes some of the key phrases as, “inner city," "state’s rights," “welfare,queens," “Sharia," "illegal aliens," and “law and order.”

If it sounds ridiculous that our leaders can stir racial fears by using such coded language, consider the following examples...

Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America” traces the development of racially coded politics in the modern United States:

In the general election, Nixon refined Goldwater’s southern strategy. Unlike Goldwater, who “ran as a racist candidate,” Nixon said, the 1968 GOP nominee campaigned on racial themes without explicitly mentioning race. “Law and order” replaced “states’ rights.” Pledging to weaken the enforcement of civil rights laws replaced outright opposition to them. Nixon “always couched his views in such a way that a citizen could avoid admitting to himself that he was attracted by a racist appeal,” said his top aide, John Ehrlichman.

One of the most famous summaries of white supremacist dog whistle politics was given by Republican strategist, Lee Atwater:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*gger, n*gger, n*gger.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*gger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*gger, n*gger.

Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow," points out that dog whistle politics can be a bi-partisan tactic of those appealing to white voters:

Bill Clinton presided over the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates of any president in American history. Clinton did not declare the War on Crime or the War on Drugs—those wars were declared before Reagan was elected and long before crack hit the streets—but he escalated it beyond what many conservatives had imagined possible. He supported the 100-to-1 sentencing disparity for crack versus powder cocaine, which produced staggering racial injustice in sentencing and boosted funding for drug-law enforcement.

Clinton championed the idea of a federal “three strikes” law in his 1994 State of the Union address and, months later, signed a $30 billion crime bill that created dozens of new federal capital crimes, mandated life sentences for some three-time offenders, and authorized more than $16 billion for state prison grants and the expansion of police forces. The legislation was hailed by mainstream-media outlets as a victory for the Democrats, who “were able to wrest the crime issue from the Republicans and make it their own.

…When Clinton left office in 2001, the United States had the highest rate of incarceration in the world. Human Rights Watch reported that in seven states, African Americans constituted 80 to 90 percent of all drug offenders sent to prison, even though they were no more likely than whites to use or sell illegal drugs. Prison admissions for drug offenses reached a level in 2000 for African Americans more than 26 times the level in 1983. All of the presidents since 1980 have contributed to mass incarceration, but as Equal Justice Initiative founder Bryan Stevenson recently observed, “President Clinton’s tenure was the worst.

Can it really be a coincidence that, as Ari Berman points out,

After Obama’s victory, 395 new voting restrictions were introduced in 49 states from 2011 to 2015. Following the Tea Party’s triumph in the 2010 elections, half the states in the country, nearly all of them under Republican control—from Texas to Wisconsin to Pennsylvania—passed laws making it harder to vote.

Any person interested in being ethical must realize the we all fall into cultural trances allowing our own group to make special claims. If we do not test ourselves, we tend to fall into hierarchies of power based on the cultural advantages of gender, religion, class or race. The very act of doing ethics from within the assumptions of our own group is an expression of the problem.

To break our exploitative trances we must do something very uncomfortable, we must listen to the righteous anger of those have a grievance against us.